The EU is at the crossroads of the fight for the environment amid growing opposition to the law to restore nature

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BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union has been at the forefront of the fight against climate change and the protection of nature for years. But it is now under pressure from within to halt new environmental efforts for fear they will hurt the economy.

With the next European Parliament elections set for 2024, some leaders and lawmakers are concerned about antagonizing workers and voters with new binding legislation and restrictive measures, urging the 27-country bloc to slam on the brakes. to kick.

Since Ursula von der Leyen took over from the powerful European Commission in 2019, environmental policy has been at the top of the EU agenda. EU countries have endorsed plans to become climate neutral by 2050 and have taken a wide range of measures, from cutting energy consumption to sharply cutting transport emissions and reforming the EU’s greenhouse gas trading system.

But cracks have appeared in Europe’s united front against climate change in recent months.

The first sign came earlier this year when Germany, the bloc’s economic giant, delayed a deal to ban new internal combustion engines in the EU by 2035 amid ideological divisions within the German government.

A deal was finally reached in March, but just weeks later the bloc’s other powerhouse, France, called for a break from EU environmental regulations, sparking controversy.

Presenting a green industry bill earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron said it was time for the EU to implement existing rules before adopting new ones.

“We have already adopted many rules at European level, more than our neighbors,” he said. “Now we have to execute, not make new rules, otherwise we will lose all players.”

Macron is particularly concerned about a US clean energy bill that would benefit electric vehicles and other products made in North America, fearing it would expose European companies to unfair competition. While Europeans and their US partners continue to work to solve the challenges posed by US law, Macron’s logic is essentially that a break from environmental restrictions would help EU companies to continue producing on their own soil, despite competition from countries such as China that have lower environmental standards. .

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo was quick to follow suit and this week called for a moratorium on the introduction of EU conservation legislation, sparking a rift within the governing coalition, which includes green politicians.

The law proposed by the EU’s executive arm aims to cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and marine areas with nature restoration measures by 2030, “and eventually extend it to all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050,” the commission said. .

De Croo said climate legislation should not be overloaded with remedial measures or restrictions on agricultural nitrogen pollution, and warned that companies could no longer keep up.

“That’s why I ask you to press the pause button,” he told VRT network. “Let’s not go too far with things that strictly speaking have nothing to do with global warming. Those other issues are also important, but measures to address them need to be phased in.”

Macron and De Croo have found allies in the European Parliament, where members of the largest group, the Christian Democratic EPP, have asked the European Commission to withdraw the nature restoration law proposal because it threatens agriculture and undermines food security in Europe.

The move came after two parliamentary committees, the Fisheries Committee and the Agriculture Committee, rejected the planned legislation.

EPP lawmakers argue that leaving farmland will lead to a rise in food prices, more imports and driving farmers out of business.

“This is an exceptional step and shows that Parliament is not ready to accept a proposal that will only increase costs and uncertainty for farmers, fishermen and consumers,” said Siegfried Mureşan, the Vice-President of the EPP Group responsible for for budget and structural policy. .

Growing opposition to the Nature Restoration Act has sparked widespread concern among environmental NGOs, and Frans Timmermans, the EU Commission’s top climate official responsible for the Green Deal, warned that he would not put forward an alternative proposal because there is no time.

“You cannot say that I support the Green Deal, but not the ambition to restore nature. It’s not an ‘à la carte menu’,’ said Timmermans.

The EU Commission has also proposed setting legally binding targets to reduce pesticide use by 50% by 2030 and to ban the use of pesticides in public parks, playgrounds and schools. To ease the transition to alternative methods of pest control, farmers could use EU funds for five years to cover the costs of the new requirements.

“When one piece falls, the other pieces fall. I don’t see how we can maintain the Green Deal without the nature pillar, because without the nature pillar the climate pillar is not viable either,” Timmermans told EU lawmakers. “So we need to get these two together.”

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